Opening Shots in Movies

Even though it may be forgotten by the time you’re done watching a movie for the first time, the opening shot of any movie is integral to introducing the audience to the world and/or characters they’re about to watch for a little while.

It may not seem like a single shot can do much to accurately prepare viewers for the movie they’re about to see, but a new video essay from Now You See It explains how opening shots in movies can tell you a lot about the story you’re about to see unfold.

Here’s Now You See It‘s video Opening Shots Tell Us Everything:

In the video, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silver Linings Playbook, Little Miss Sunshine and Silence of the Lambs are used as examples to illustrate the importance of opening shots and how they set the stage and have a lot of insight into the entire movie. As the narration explains, filmmakers “director almost always use opening shots to convey the film’s main ideas, premises or character arcs.” The video continues to explain:

“In the same way that an establishing shot introduces us into a scene, an opening shot introduces us to a movie, and that introduction can be a landscape, character or even a computer screen, but whatever it is, it’s one of the most noteworthy aspects in a film.”

While I fully appreciate calling attention to the opening shots of movies, it’s important to note that with pretty much any movie, the opening shot won’t have much significance as far as conveying the main ideas and premises until you’ve seen the entire movie.

For example, anyone who hasn’t seen 2001: A Space Odyssey probably wouldn’t be able to infer what the entire movie is about from that single shot, but that doesn’t make the opening shot less important by any means. If anything it means you should go back and watch any good movie to find deeper meaning in how the story is told, because every single choice made by the director has purpose.

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